Look, Breathe, Sit Back to Boost Riding Confidence

Three steps to overcoming riding nervousness--plus, a way to remember them when it matters most.
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Three steps to overcoming riding nervousness--plus, a way to remember them when it matters most.

Editor's note: In Horse & Rider's November '09 article "Give Him a Job!" (Julie Goodnight's Confidence Boosters), Julie teaches you how to handle a nervous horse by putting him to work--instead of insisting he stand still. Along with giving him a "job" to take his mind off his anxiety, it's also important that you remain calm--and soft--in the saddle. In case you missed it, here are Julie Goodnight's unfailing stay-calm tips for a nervous rider.

Any time you feel nervous, look in the direction you're traveling, breathe deeply, and sit back so your nose is behind the point of your belt buckle.

Any time you feel nervous, look in the direction you're traveling, breathe deeply, and sit back so your nose is behind the point of your belt buckle.

Fear can make you tense and defensive. That, in turn, can cause you to be rough with your horse. It's as if you're trying to bluff him into believing you're not afraid. But you're not fooling him; he's just catching nervousness from you, because that's what herd animals do.

What to do instead? These three things:

Look up in the direction you're traveling, not down at your horse. This subtly reminds both of you that you're actively in charge (rather than fixated on him).

Breathe deeply from your abdomen. Imagine filling a glass of water all the way to the top, then emptying it all the way back down to the bottom. Do it in rhythm with your horse's strides. This will have a calming effect on both of you.

Sit back on your seat bones and get your nose behind the point of your belt buckle. Soften your lower back and all your joints, so you can follow your horse's motion. Relaxed muscles promote a relaxed mind.

How to remember these three steps? Develop a mantra: Look, breathe, sit back, and ride. Memorize it, then use it to coach yourself back to focus and relaxation whenever you feel your nerves taking over.

Julie hosts the popular RFD-TV program "Horse Master with Julie Goodnight," in which she helps real riders with real horses. She also presents clinics nationwide; home base is Goodnight Training Stables near Salida, Colo.

This article originally appeared in the September 2009 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.